NEXT RACES: Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals, May 19-21, Englishtown, N.J. TV: ESPN2, May 21, 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET) Castrol Nationals, May 26-28, Dallas TV: TNN, May 28, 4:30-6 p.m. (ET/PT) THREE WEEKS, THREE RACES Memorial Day ...
NEXT RACES: Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals, May 19-21, Englishtown, N.J. TV: ESPN2, May 21, 9:30-11:30 p.m. (ET) Castrol Nationals, May 26-28, Dallas TV: TNN, May 28, 4:30-6 p.m. (ET/PT) THREE WEEKS, THREE RACES
Memorial Day traditionally signals the start of vacation season, but the next three weeks will offer little time for relaxation for Warren Johnson and his GM Goodwrench Service Plus team. They will undertake a cross-country trek that will see them racing in New Jersey, Texas, and Illinois on successive weekends.
W.J. actually has five races on his itinerary. In addition to three national events in three weeks, he will also compete in a Pro Stock invitational race in Budds Creek, Md., and the Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel, a special "race within a race" held in conjunction with the Matco Tools Spring SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J.
This intense activity may be just the antidote for Warren's ailing championship aspirations. Johnson suffered first-round losses in his last three starts - the longest run of early exits since he lost in the first round at four successive events in 1996 (Phoenix, Gainesville, Houston, and Atlanta).
"We're in the process of making sure that all of our engines are fresh," Warren reported. "Teams with deep resources and good crews will have an advantage in this stretch, especially when you we consider how hard we have to push every component now to win. Any failure can put you squarely behind the eight ball.
"We'll test an interim version of the new Hoosier tires at Budds Creek on Wednesday night before we go to Englishtown." Johnson reported. "We hope to have the real race tires ready for Dallas. At that point I think you'll see a significant improvement in our performance."
Johnson scored the first of his 80 career NHRA victories at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in 1982. As he celebrates his Silver Anniversary Season in 2000, he recalled that first visit to the NHRA winner's circle.
"I think I felt relief more than anything else!" he confided. "I'd been racing on the NHRA tour since 1975, so that first national event victory was a long time coming.
"I had run several match races in Englishtown and I knew the characteristics of the track very well. I went out to a pile of tires behind the shop and dug out the oldest, most weatherbeaten pair of Firestones I could find. Lo and behold, my car went right down the track on every run because those tires were the perfect match for the conditions. I wish we were one week ahead on our Hoosier tire program, because I think we have a tire design in the works that would be excellent on the Englishtown track - just like I had in '82!"
Billy Meyer built the Texas Motorplex, but Warren Johnson virtually owns the all-concrete quarter-mile near Dallas. In 16 NHRA national events at the Motorplex, Johnson has notched five victories and ten final-round appearances. He's won the last three races at the Motorplex, and has qualified in the No. 1 spot 11 times. He defeated Jim Yates in the final rounds of the 1998 and 1999 Castrol Nationals.
"One of the reasons that we've done well at the Motorplex is because it's a driver's track," Johnson explained. "The groove is very narrow, and some guys end up in trouble. The traction is usually excellent, but you have to keep the car between the walls.
"The conditions on Memorial Day weekend will be entirely different than when we raced there in mid-April last year. There's a good chance it's going to be hot, and that will affect the track. The entire racing surface is concrete, so it isn't as susceptible to heat as asphalt - but with direct sunlight, it may be a little precarious."
After back-to-back races in Englishtown and Dallas, W.J.'s GM Goodwrench Service Plus rig will head straight to Chicagoland for the Prestone Route 66 Nationals.
THE WAY IT WAS
Englishtown was the site of one of Warren's rare racing mishaps. In 1976, he ran off the end of the track, damaging the fiberglass front end of his Pro Stock Camaro.
"I pulled the parachute release, and the 'chute failed to open," Johnson remembered. "I stood on the brakes, and the master cylinder failed. At that point, there was no way to stop that car.
"I had two alternatives - go left into the guardrail or go right over a hill and between two fences. I chose to go right. The space between the fence posts was about three inches wider than the car. I threaded the needle on that one and ended up on the frontage road alongside the track. We gathered up the parts and towed the car back to the scale to be weighed because I set the speed record on that run."
LAST RACES: Moto1.net NHRA Nationals presented by Chevrolet, April 30, Richmond, Va. Qualified: No. 1 at 6.838/201.28 mph Finished: Lost in first round to Rickie Smith
Advance Auto Parts NHRA Southern Nationals, May 7, Atlanta Qualified: No. 1 at 6.907/200.14 mph Finished: Lost in first round to Ron Krisher
POINTS RACE: (After 7 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6 755 2. Warren Johnson 1 466 3. Jim Yates 0 427 4. Mark Pawuk 0 380 5. Troy Coughlin 0 377